From the author of The Water Dancers and Good Family comes the story of an Irish family that emigrates to America in 1819 and settles in Cincinnati, Ohio, where they will confront the horrible reality of slavery on the opposite bank of the Ohio River
by Terry Gamble
William Morrow, January 2019
Emigrating from Ireland in search of a prosperous life in America, the Givens family travels down the Ohio River to the burgeoning village of Cincinnati, Ohio, where they encounter Jacksonian populism, a resurgent tide of religious evangelism, an industrial revolution hearkened by the steam engine, and most starkly, the fact of slavery on the opposite bank.
Olivia, the “too-tall, too-thin” narrator, envies the freedom enjoyed by her brothers James, a businessman, and Erasmus, a profligate minister. At a debate about God and Reason, Olivia exerts her independence when she rises from her seat in support of Reason and becomes known as “the woman who stood.”
Taking note of Olivia’s courage, a local doctor invites her to attend clandestine autopsies, a partnership that culminates in marriage after several setbacks—the death of Olivia’s sister-in-law, and the doctor’s accepting a slave girl as collateral for his inheritance. When the doctor suddenly dies from an infection, Olivia accompanies his body to Kentucky where she meets his family and encounters the horrors of slavery firsthand.
After a disastrous failed attempt to help a slave gain her freedom, Olivia goes to live with Erasmus at a camp by the Ohio River—the borderlands between freedom and slavery—where Erasmus and his son have begun aiding escaped slaves, and the Givens family, initially indifferent toward slavery, will begin actively working for its end.
Terry Gamble is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan where she sits on the English Advisory Board. She has worked as an English teacher, designer, and freelance writer.